The Seattle City Council on Monday agreed to require businesses with at least five employees to provide paid sick leave.

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To loud cheers from hundreds of supporters, the Seattle City Council on Monday agreed to require businesses with at least five employees to provide paid sick leave to workers.

Seattle becomes just the third city in the country, after San Francisco and Washington, D.C., to mandate paid leave for employees to care for themselves or family members when ill. The state of Connecticut also has approved mandatory paid sick leave.

Councilmember Nick Licata, who sponsored the legislation, said the bill allows businesses to succeed while also ensuring good working conditions for employees.

“It’s wrong that someone has to choose between going to work sick or losing pay,” Licata said.

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But several representatives of business at the packed City Council hearing said it was unwise to enact new requirements on business while the economy continues to struggle.

“You’re making it more expensive to do business and more difficult to create jobs,” said Joe Quintana, a Seattle business consultant.

The bill exempts businesses with fewer than five employees and new businesses during their first two years of operation. Businesses with five to 49 employees must provide a minimum of five paid sick days. Companies with 50 to 249 employees must provide seven, and those with more than 250 workers must provide nine paid days off.

The legislation takes effect September 2012. The council also ordered a review of the bill after it’s been in place for a year.

The only “no” vote came from council President Richard Conlin, who objected to providing different benefits depending on the size of the business.

He noted that workers at very small companies — about 39,000 in the city — won’t get any coverage and that the sick-leave requirement can be waived as part of collective bargaining.

He wondered, if the goal is to protect public health by keeping sick workers at home, why the city is excluding workers and allowing others to bargain away the right to paid leave.

“I’m concerned there may be unintended consequences,” Conlin said.

Lynn Thompson: 206-464-8305 or

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